[Probably New Haven]: 1815. Unbound. This two-page sworn statement with docking on a third page was taken by a Connecticut Justice of the Peace in 1815. It measures approximately 15” x 9.5” unfolded. It bears a small, but detailed black wax seal. The document is missing a small piece from when it was opened; it does not affect any text.
In this deposition, Fowler (apparently the New Haven jailor) gives testimony with regard to statements made by Ralph Pearl relating to his debts:
“Ralph Pearl of Meriden in the County of New Haven was commited to the goal of New Haven in the County on the 2d day of February 1815 . . . and this said Ralph Pearl did . . . take the poor prisoners Oath on the third Day of March 1815 before Henry Daggett Just Peace and on the same Day before the poor prisoners Oath was administered . . . he maid an assignment of all the property he had in possession or that was in the Hands of his Creditors after paying their demands [that] was considered to be General Assignment of the property be possesd of every name & nature and this Ralph has said in my hearing . . . that if the debts for which he was imprisoned was all that he owed he would try to have them settled but as he could not pay all and others were anxious for their pay he must conclude to stay in prison so long as his Creditors thought proper. . .. I further state that since R Pearl has been in Jail . . . I have charged him one Dollar & fifty Cents per week . . . for his expences, & his Brother Osin Pearl & Benjamin Upton said they could see me paid & . . . let him have what necessaries he wants & that I the Deponent must be paid.”. Very good. Item #009752
The United States inherited its system of debtor’s prisons from Great Britain and although it was banned federally in 1833, some states continued the practice until the 1850s. Imprisonment for failure to pay just debts was quite common in early American, and two signers of the Declaration of Independence (one an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court) spent time in jail because of their indigence. Adding to their troubles, those imprisoned were charged for their room and board. Generally, prisoners were held until their debts were fully paid, usually by family or friends, or they had worked off what they owed by penal labor, although exceptions could be made with the agreement of creditors.
(For more info, see “Debtors’ Prisons: Then and Now” at the Marshal Project and “The Reality of Debtor’s Prisons in Britain and North America” at History Collection, both available online.) This deposition bears witness to the fact that in Connecticut, prisoners were charged room and board, creditors had some say with regard to the length of imprisonment if prisoners were unable to pay off their debt, and that families and friends of debtors helped out when they could.
Rather scarce. At the time of listing, ViaLibri shows one similar document for sale in the trade. The Rare Book Hub shows only two other similar items have been sold at auction since 1900, and OCLC shows six similar documents are held by the New York Historical Society.